This past Labor Day was one of the loveliest weekends I’ve spent, not because we went anywhere, but because I didn’t spend the time frantically finishing multiple syllabi and dreading the impending semester and the end of my ‘real’ work. As an administrator, I’ve been working all summer and my teaching duties are minimal, so the semester’s start does not radically alter my schedule or workload. But it was the end of the summer for our eight-year old daughter and she alternated between excitement and loss.
This summer marked a transition in our family. No longer the parent with the flexible summer hours, I worked all summer while my husband – a freelance photographer-- took care of our daughter. This arrangement works well for everyone – my husband’s new flexibility has allowed me to take on this new responsibility without having to put our daughter into summer daycare while my summer paycheck eases the bumps of starting his new business. And our daughter gets the benefit of experiencing each parent by turn as primary caregiver. I’ve noticed small changes: our daughter calls out for “Dad!” more often and they share silly jokes. Also her table manners seem to have degenerated, but that could be just a coincidence.
But over the weekend I reclaimed her. We shopped for back-to-school shoes, swam in the muddy water of a nearby pond, and stopped at the fruit stand for apples and tomatoes on the way home. When my daughter asked me about multiplication tables -- they haven’t covered that yet in school -- I put my book down and explained the wonderful tricks of the 9s times table, then the 5s, then the 11s. Unlike my own memories of cramming the summer before I mainstreamed into traditional school, there was no pressure for my daughter to learn, just a natural interest.
That night we watched “Anne of Green Gables” together. I had to talk her into it, but soon she was entranced by the heroine, a wildly articulate and imaginative orphan in the early 1900s who is taken in by an older couple on Prince Edward Island. When Matthew, the kindly older man who becomes Anne’s father figure, dies of a heart attack, my daughter sobbed and sobbed. Even after I turned off the television and held her in my arms she kept crying. “I don’t want my grandpa to die!” she wailed. I reassured her that Grandpa was quite healthy and would probably be around for a long time. “But someday he will die. And daddy too! I will never be happy again after you and daddy die!” When my husband came home he found us both red-eyed.
Tuesday morning, inspired by a momestry’s blog I wrote Sophie a letter asking her to practice bravery and compassion this year.
Today was my first day of classes and while it was lovely to meet my students and see the hallways full of students again, it wasn’t as extraordinary as watching my daughter grow.